Every summer, the Jewish Agency sends 1,400 Israelis to work as counselors, specialists and educators in nearly two hundred summer camps across North America. This past summer, North American campers gained insight into topics ranging from the nineteenth century Zionist Congress to last year's war in Lebanon, all of which were facilitated by our Israeli summer camp shlichim. These programs were developed by senior camp delegation heads who participated in the Cornerstone Fellowship Program, established by the Avi Chai Foundation and the Foundation for Jewish Camping.
The Cornerstone program encourages talented and experienced returning camp counselors and leaders to enhance their skills through participation in a pre-camp seminar as well as development of creative Jewish programs at camps across North America. For the second year, members of the Jewish Agency's Summer Shlichim program participated in the Avi Chai funded counselor training along with their North American peers. Chosen because of their outstanding leadership skills, the delegation heads were not only participants but also led many of the seminar's Israel programs such as a large scale reenactment of the First Zionist congress which was very well received.
Although there were only eight Israelis among the 150 Fellows, their impact was significant. Their presence fostered synergy in developing more holistic approaches to integrating Israel and Hebrew into camp programs. North Americans and Israelis gained the opportunity to become better acquainted before the camp session, collaborate and develop a shared vision of Jewish education and leadership. The programs they crafted together also focused on events from Jerusalem's fortieth year of unification and Israel's upcoming sixtieth anniversary.
As a result of their participation in the Cornerstone program, the participating summer camp shlichim further expanded upon their leadership training skills and proved to be an even greater asset to the camps. According to Shalom Orzach, Avi Chai Project Director at the Education Department, one of the challenges that the project has chosen to address in recent years has been expanding the impact of shlichut within but also beyond the confines of camp. "The development of the Shabbatonim with North Americans in the training courses, and the growth of the collaborative training with the Foundation for Jewish Camping have become priorities. For many, these on-going encounters put the camp experience possibly as a climax but equally importantly within a broader context of personal growth informed by the organic and compelling relationship between Israelis and North Americans."
It is anticipated that the number of Israeli participants in the Cornerstone will continue to grow, and that this shared experience will continue to nurture cooperation and creativity among future Israeli and North American educators and leaders.